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Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Discovering a dangerous new world

The last game you'll ever need...

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The Frost Dragon is pelted with lightning-bolts, screeching in pain and anger as it passes overhead. Epic is a word so overused in videogames that it barely means anything anymore - but trust us - this moment is epic.

DEEPER UNDERGROUND
The scene then shifts from the chaos of dragons to the relative tranquillity of one of Skyrim's 150+ dungeons. While Oblivion had a single dungeon designer, Skyrim has eight. We notice the change brown tunnels and circular caves - here everything feels bespoke, from the shape of the caverns to the lighting and all the objects inside each area.

One cave has a shaft of light streaming in from the world above, the next has a stream running through the middle. According to Howard, the team is using ambient devices like water and light to guide players through some dungeons - presumably the ones expected to clock in at over an hour each. And where there's no natural light there are new ways of brightening each dungeon up.

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Dovakin fires a globe of light from his staff, which sticks to a wall and illuminates a generous portion of the tunnel ahead. Will we be able to use this to distract enemies and create confusion? Very likely, if the enemy and non-player AI is as smart as Bethesda claim.

The developers are on record with a claim that no two areas will be alike, and the organic feel of the dungeons we've seen provides hope it's more than an idle boast. "The game world is built, all the quests are there," says producer Craig Lafferty. "But 300 hours is so much time. So, we're looking at making sure the game works properly wherever you go and whatever you do."

It's no small task if each area is completely unique and if quests change depending on how you play, thanks to that Radiant Story tech. The Quality Assurance (QA) testers are probably sobbing quietly as you read this.

Inside the next dungeon - a more open ruin with a waterfall - we get our first glimpse at some of Skyrim's more common fiends. A Dragon Priest rises from a coffin to reveal a skeletal face and tattered robes - the animation is slick and eerie, but Dovakin wastes no time in lighting the abomination up with a quick-fire spell. Skyrim's combat works on a two-handed principle.

You fight with what you've got in your hands, and this can be any combination of swords, shields, two-handed weapons, blades, staffs and spells. Moreover, weapons can be combined - dual stabs with daggers, combined spells for increased damage or extra effects.

Anyone who tinkered with spell-crafting in Oblivion will see the potential here. Invisibility plus fiery dagger? Paralyse plus lightning? Get creative. How you deal with each enemy each side-quest, each dungeon will depend on your preferences and skill setup. Although there are fewer specialisations in Skyrim than Oblivion, customisation remains just as deep: there are Fallout stye perks, a fistful of dragon shouts to use in combat and vast numbers of weapons (unique and vanilla) to equip.

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Those streamlined menus should make it more of a pleasure to micro manage them, too. And once you've finally nailed your character setup, there are the Guilds to consider...

JOIN THE CLUB
Howard has confirmed three guilds in Skyrim: The College Of Winterhold (Mages), The Companions (Warriors) and The Thieves Guild (er, thieves). You'll be able to join all three, and each has their own storylines, characters and goodies. No word on whether the Dark Brotherhood - Oblivion's assassin's guild - will make a comeback, but if Bethesda have listened to fans it's pretty certain to reappear.

Vampirism? We'd put good money on a return, and it bringing Lycanthropy along too. Again, being turned into a vampire or werewolf has the potential to become an eight/ten hour cure quest... it's easy to see where that 300-hour figure comes from.

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